Not only do the images produced by GelSight, a new, portable imaging system from researchers in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, have a resolution that previously required expensive laboratory equipment, but they’re 3-D, too. Here, GelSight images particles of ink spelling the word ‘ink’ on a piece of paper. Image: Micah Kimo Johnson
By combining a clever physical interface with computer-vision algorithms, researchers in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences have created a simple, portable imaging system that can achieve resolutions previously possible only with large and expensive lab equipment. The device could provide manufacturers with a way to inspect products too large to fit under a microscope and could also have applications in medicine, forensics and biometrics.
The heart of the system, dubbed GelSight, is a slab of transparent, synthetic rubber, one of whose sides is coated with a paint containing tiny flecks of metal. When pressed against the surface of an object, the paint-coated side of the slab deforms. Cameras mounted on the other side of the slab photograph the results, and computer-vision algorithms analyze the images.
At this year’s Siggraph — the premier conference on computer graphics — Adelson and Johnson, along with graduate student Alvin Raj and postdoc Forrester Cole, are presenting a new, higher-resolution version of GelSight that can register physical features less than a micrometer in depth and about two micrometers across.
Moreover, because GelSight makes multiple measurements of the rubber’s deformation, with light coming in at several different angles, it can produce 3-D models of an object, which can be manipulated on a computer screen.
Adelson and Johnson have built a prototype sensor, about the size of a soda can, which an operator can move over the surface of an object with one hand, and which produces 3-D images almost instantly.
Adelson and Johnson are already in discussion with one major aerospace company and several manufacturers of industrial equipment, all of whom are interested in using GelSight to check the integrity of their products. The technology has also drawn the interest of experts in criminal forensics, who think that it could provide a cheap, efficient way to identify the impressions that particular guns leave on the casings of spent shells. There could also be applications in dermatology — distinguishing moles from cancerous growths — and even biometrics. The resolution provided by GelSight is much higher than is required to distinguish fingerprints, but “the fingerprinting people keep wanting to talk to us,” Adelson says, laughing